At the beginning of the year everything was going on as normal – well almost everything. All colleagues came back from the Christmas holidays well rested and motivated and with full commitment we started the numerous preparations for the upcoming hiking season. Because it seemed it would be a very special one: we had already received many, many bookings and we were still receiving requests from numerous guests who were keen to take advantage of our early bird bonus and wanted advice on our beautiful travel destinations. Our team of travel specialists had their hands full to get the trips organised before the start of the season in April. The joy of the season start and the many satisfied guests was coming into focus.
The subject of Corona and COVID-19 only just started to appear in our everyday lives. It started with some bad news from China. But the danger still seemed far away and therefore unreal. But during lunch breaks it was being discussed more and more. No one had expected the virus would reach Europe so quickly. We were in the middle of preparing for the international tourism fair in Berlin, which was planned for March. We had many bookings and still had hopes for a great season. Travel documents were getting their finishing touches, the final organisational details were coordinated and we were particularly looking forward to moving to a new office building that was ready to go at the end of February, and our larger parking area which had been completed shortly before.
At the end of February, events were dropped almost simultaneously: the ITB, the world’s largest tourism trade fair was cancelled at short notice. Numerous reports and headlines from our homeland, Austria and Germany, and above all from our most beautiful and most important destinations – South Tyrol, marked the first, sad picture. By now we definitely knew that the situation was serious. Very serious. Above all, it was difficult to estimate the effects it would have over the coming weeks. But the first calls from concerned guests started to come in – would the tours take place as planned? Did they have anything to worry about? It was difficult to say, because this was a completely new and unprecedented situation for all of us. I remember well when my colleague Lisa looked up from her computer and read an email from our colleague in South Tyrol: “The ‘tsunami’ is coming – and it will be strong for you too.” Unfortunately, this would turn out to be somehow true.
At the beginning of March everything went very quickly: first travel warnings reached us from many of our tour destinations. South Tyrol and Italy were a particular cause for concern. A start to the season as planned seemed increasingly improbable. The situation changed almost daily: closed borders, cancelled flights and the buzzwords ‘quarantine’ and ‘travel ban’ were suddenly on everyone’s lips. A big challenge for everyone in the team! The care and transparent communication with guests was always our top priority. However, this was not the only difficulty, there was talk of home office and social distancing – keep the best possible distance from one another to ensure the health of all employees.
And continue to be there for our guests, to keep an eye on what is going on and to react appropriately and take the necessary steps. For this purpose, our management set up a plan for staff at lightning speed – more information on this can be found in my colleague Andreas’ diary. Almost overnight, a functioning home office was set up for all employees, then the accessibility and tasks were worked out. A real ‘Herculean task’, which thanks to our great team, we were able to accomplish quickly and successfully.
First of all, however, our concern was primarily for the guests who were still on our tours – because some destinations such as Mallorca, Tenerife and Madeira had radically tightened their entry and exit restrictions almost overnight. Thanks to our on-site staff, we were able to bring guests home quickly and, above all, safely. We could take a breath – a very important milestone had been reached.
My colleagues and I are currently working from home. We are still available for guests by phone from 9am until 3pm and are available by email all week. During regular conference calls we coordinate and keep each other up to date – and also in good spirits. Such a quick change to everyday life simply takes time to get used to it, but I think we have done a good job together. We are still observing current developments and wherever it is necessary to cancel trips we actively inform guests – health and safety come first!
There is still uncertainty among our guests as well: what is the next step in their journey? What will happen in summer? We cannot answer all of these questions at the moment, but one thing I can assure all guests: we do our best every day to meet the requirements and clear and honest communication with our guests is our top priority. It’s about a well-deserve holiday – and that’s why we strive #withheartandsoul! Due to the restrictions, it is now of course necessary to stay at home and away from work. Let’s make the most of it! For example, I suddenly have a lot more time with my daughter, and time for experiences that, alongside everyday work-life, may sometimes be neglected.